I knew he'd love it. After all, David--a fellow American and the author of the best-selling Me Talk Pretty One Day--had dragged me to flea markets all over Paris when I needed to furnish my new apartment there. David took almost as much pleasure in my finds as he did in his, patiently setting me up with all the implements of a French household, from Le Creuset pots to gilded mirrors. Bringing him to the fair, which runs for 10 days every March and September, was my way of returning the favor.
As the train pulled into Chatou, 10 miles from Paris, we saw what appeared to be a refugee encampment with smoke billowing out of the center. Handsomely dressed dealers, many with dogs in tow, carried out huge candelabra, piles of linen and baskets of china. Anything but a refugee encampment, it was a small village filled with green wooden stalls surrounding a food area where something (ham, we assumed) smoked away.
Both David and I had been wondering what ham had to do with antiques. We learned that during the Middle Ages, pork butchers from every region in France came to Paris during Holy Week, leading up to Easter, to sell meat. As the years passed, vendors at the Foire aux Lards (or Fair of Fat, as it was then known) began selling not only pork but the equipment to cook it. Now you can buy everything imaginable there, we observed, from oyster dishes and butcher blocks to four-poster beds. While I have never been one for flea markets at home in San Francisco, this was something else entirely. It was as if we'd stumbled upon the detritus of a musty old French attic or a recently sold château.